Misogyny and harassment has become a destructive but powerful within the gaming community. Eoghan Dalton traces its frightening beginnings back to where it began with the threat of a school massacre...

Over    the    past    month    a    man    promised    he'd    commit    one    of    the    worst    school    massacres    America    had    ever    seen    if    a    woman    delivered    a    lecture    at    Utah    State    University,    a    different    woman    was    forced    to    flee    her    home    after  threats  online  and  several  others  have  had  their  addresses  put  online  to intimidate and threaten them.  Was this over the crisis in the Middle East?  Maybe it had to do with net neutrality?  As it turned out, it was over  video  games.  

Let's  go  back  in  time  though  and  see  where  “GamerGate”  began.  An  independent  developer,  Zoe  Quinn,  released  an  atypical  game  called  Depression  Quest , which played  more  as  an  interactive  art  piece  rather  than  a  conventional  game.  The  game  received  praise,  but  drew  criticism  from  gamers  who  disliked  that  it  was  more  interactive  story  than  an  actual  game.  A  few  weeks  ago  though,  a blog  was  posted  by  Quinn's  ex-boyfriend,  Eron  Gjoni.  He  accused  the  developer  of  cheating  on  him  with  a  games  journalist,  and  implied  that  the  journalist  gave  Quinn's  game  a  favourable  review  after  his  relations  with  her.  The  site  in  question  is  Kotaku,  one  of  the  biggest  around  in  the  gaming  world.  Although  Gjoni  was  quickly  shown  to  be  lying  about  Kotaku's  coverage  of  Depression  Quest  (the  game  was  never  even  reviewed  on  the  site),  this  didn't  stop  anonymous  misogynists  using  Gjoni's  blog  as  reason  to  hound  Quinn  on  the  premise  that  she  was  the  latest  example  of  developers'  cosy  relationship  with  games  journalists.  Unfortunately,  this  potentially  noble  mission  devolved  into  posting  Quinn's  personal  details  online,  nude  photos  of  her  as  well  as  threatening  violence  against  her.

At  the  same  time,  a  media  critic  called  Anita  Sarkeesian  had  released  the  latest  video  in  her  Youtube  series  called  Tropes  vs  Women  in  Video  Games.  Sarkeesian  was  no  stranger  to  attacks  by  keyboard  warriors,  but  the  timing  of  her  video  brought  the  circus  down  on  her  as  well.  On  Tuesday,  she  received  emails  threatening  her  life  if  she  delivered  the  lecture  in  Utah.  A  part  of  one  of  the  emails  read:

She  is  going  to  die  screaming…  if  you  let  her  come  to  USU...you  will  all  bear  witness  to what  feminist  lies  and  poison  have  done  to  the  men  of  America.

Sarkeesian  intended  on  following  through  with  the  lecture  until  she  learned  that  the  university  could  not  stop  people  bringing  handguns  into  the  building  due  to  the  state's  laws.  A  number  of  the  threats  also  referenced  a  1989  atrocity  known  as  the  Montreal  Massacre,  where  14  women  were  killed  by  a  man  claiming  to  be  fighting  against  feminism.  In  the  past,  Sarkeesian  has  contended  with  bomb  threats  and  having  to  flee  her  home  after  harassment  from  gamers  unhappy  with  her  series.  

The  controversy  was  brought  to  Twitter,  where  it  has  been  picked  over  day  after  day  since  August.  Of  course,  if  people  are  going  to  argue  then  they  need  a  grand  unifying  hashtag.  So  Adam  Baldwin,  of  all  Baldwins,  coined  the  controversy  as  #GamerGate.

More  recently,  actress  Felicia  Day  blogged  about  her  fear  of  sections  of  the  gaming  community.  Within  an  hour,  her  address  was  posted  in  the  comments  underneath  the  post.  Day  might  not  be  known  to  most  but  she  has  worked  consistently  in  games  and  new  media,  and  wrote  and  starred  in  a  series  about  her  life  as  a  gamer.  

It's  interesting  though  that  when  others  have  spoken  out  against  Gamergate,  they  haven't  received  near  as  much  harassment.  Will  Wheaton,  previously  of  Star  Trek,  escaped  criticism  as  did  former  American  footballer  Chris  Kluwe.  The  latter  employed  some  inventive  terms  for  those  backing  the  Gamergate  movement,  such  as  ''slackjawed  pickletits''  and  ''slopebrowed  weaseldicks''.  Incongruously, neither man was hounded  after  their  comments.  

And  that  there  is  just  one  of  several  clues  that  the  Gamergate  movement  is  more  about  misogyny  than  anything  else.  Sarkeesian  has  received  countless  threats  for  her  feminist  analysis  of  games,  Quinn  had  her  to  contend  with  her  sex  life  becoming  a  point  of  fixation,  while  other  female  developers  have  also  received  threats  for  speaking  out.

Gamergate  is  all  about  vilifying  women.  Its  supporters  have  tried  to  claim  its  about  exposing  corrupt  practices  in  gaming  journalism,  pointing  out  the  comfortable  relationships  between  companies  and  journalists.  But  if  this  is  about  dodgy  journalism,  then  the  Gamergate  supporters  should  focus  on  less  on  indie  developers  and  more  on  the  AAA  publishers.  If  publications  or  websites  wish  to  preview  a  game,  they  usually  have  to  sweet  talk  their  way  into  being  allowed  to  get  hands-on  with  the  upcoming  release.  It  therefore  creates  an  uneasy  alliance  where  the  publishers  look  at  the  journalists  more  as  marketers,  expecting  the  coverage  to  be  more  advertisement  than  ethical  reporting.  

Ironically,  if  those  involved  with  Gamergate  did  succeed  at  transforming  publishers  cosy  relationships  with  journalists  then  they  may  be  left  equally  unhappy.  It's  become  a  long  running  criticism  that  most  games  these  days  feature  protagonists  who  could  well  be  cousins  of  each  other.  The  white,  male,  lead  is  the  element  many  major  games  share.  

This  has  reached  its  nadir  with  the  release  of  the  trailer  for  Hatred,  which  will  let  players  control  a  man  consumed  by  so  much  of  the  titular  emotion  that  he  takes  to  the  streets  on  a  killing  spree.  This  type  of  thing  has  been  made  before  (Postal  comes  to  mind)  but  Hatred  looks  to  be  approaching  the  topic  with  a  tone  befitting  of  the  name.  The  young  man  monologues  how  his  ''whole  life  is  just  cold,  bitter  hatred.  [He]  always  wanted  to  die  violently.''  Combine  that  with  his  black  leather  jacket  and  it's  difficult  not  to  be  reminded  of  the  so  called  “Trenchcoat  Mafia”,  the  teenagers  who  orchestrated  the  Columbine  killings.  However,  I'm  not  going  to  rule  out  the  chance  that  Hatred  turns  out  to  be  a  parody  rather  than  a  sincere  ode  to  killingsprees.  So  far  though,  all  signs  point  to  it  being  a  fantasy  for  the  type  of  person  who's  frustrated  that  games  are  changing  and  moving  away  from  the  previous  norms.  

It's  been  claimed  before  that  the  reason  developers  reinforce  the  usual  tropes  around,  particularly  the  sexual  ones,  is  that  games  are  played  mainly  by  young  men;  ergo,  put  in  the  kind  of  content  that  would  please  that  demographic.  This  logic  has  also  been  used  to  explain  why  so  many  protagonists  end  up  with  the  same  look,  that  of  the  white  fella  with  dark  hair.  The  point  is  usually  topped  off  with  being  told  that  it's  makes  sense  business  wise.  Except  now  that  we  know  that  it's  almost  an  even  split  between  men  and  women  playing  games  and  most  gamers  are  over  30,  the  idea  doesn't  hold  up.  It  now  makes  perfect  business  sense  to  bring  variety  to  gaming's  leads,  reflecting  the  gamers  themselves.  

It  might  seem  as  if  I'm  going  off  point  here  but,  really,  what  the  Gamergate  controversy  has  shown  us  is  that  there  are  a  lot  of  problems  within  the  sub-culture.  There's  a  struggle  ongoing  with  one  side  trying  to  modernise  the  media  while  the  other  side  wishes  to  keep  things  as  they  are.  It  must  look  ridiculous  to  onlookers  but  games  are  still  a  young  medium,  and  there  are  going  to  be  more  bumps  before  we  reach  the  conclusion.  

As  for  those  who  genuinely  wish  to  fix  gaming  journalism,  using  Gamergate  as  a  banner  is  the  first  step  to  ruin.  It's  become  toxic  for  anyone  hoping  to  do  good  and  is  best  abandoned.  All  Gamergate  has  shown  itself  to  be  about  is  misogyny  and  an  unwillingness  to  self-analyse.